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The Los Angeles Chargers revamped their roster over the offseason in an effort to compete in a stacked AFC West division. Will they finally reach the playoffs since drafting Justin Herbert? NFL handicapper Jason Yamaguchi offers his thoughts.
ANALYSIS

2022 NFL Prediction: Can Justin Herbert Lead the Los Angeles Chargers to the Postseason?

In 2021, the Chargers entered the final week of the regular season with their sights set on a wildcard spot. The stakes of their Sunday night matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders could not have been higher — the winning team would advance to the postseason, while the losing squad would be sent packing. In other words, the final game of the 2021 NFL regular season was effectively a playoff game.

The Raiders outplayed the Chargers for the majority of the game, building a lead that stretched as high as 15 points in the fourth quarter. However, the Chargers stormed back on the back of star quarterback Justin Herbert, who shouldered the weight of the franchise on two late touchdown drives to tie the game and sent it to overtime. On those two drives, Herbert converted four fourth-down passes, including a missile of a touchdown pass on fourth-and-21. Despite his Herculean effort, the Chargers fell short in overtime, with their season ending on a Daniel Carlson field goal.

As the 2022 season beckons, things are looking up for the Chargers. They made numerous key acquisitions to address the weaknesses that doomed their 2021 campaign, and they also re-signed a couple of core pieces. Will those moves be sufficient in transitioning the Chargers from fringe playoff team to Super Bowl contender? Let's take a closer look at the Los Angeles Chargers.

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2022 NFL Prediction - Los Angeles Chargers

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A Surprisingly Soft Schedule for the Los Angeles Chargers

This offseason, the AFC West established itself as the strongest division in the NFL. The Raiders, Broncos, and Chargers all made substantial upgrades to their respective rosters, and the Chiefs are still the Chiefs (sans Tyreek Hill). As a result, one might assume — based on the fact that all teams play their divisional rivals twice a year — that the Chargers have a difficult schedule in 2022.

However, that is not the case. It is true that the Chargers have six difficult divisional games ahead of them, yes. Outside of the division, though, their schedule projects to be quite manageable. They play all four teams in the AFC South, a division that consists of two basement-dwellers and two middling wildcard contenders. The Chargers also face the four NFC West teams, two of which (SEA and ARI) seem likely to take major steps backwards this season. Due to their third-place finish in 2021, the Chargers round out their opponent list with matchups against the Browns, Dolphins, and Falcons. The Browns will be starting Jacoby Brissett when they face the Chargers, the Dolphins are solid but uninspiring, and the Falcons are atrocious.

All told, my expected wins model projects the Chargers to face the third-easiest schedule in the league this season. This is particularly noteworthy because in the past, teams with easy schedules have gone over their win totals at a disproportionately high rate. This trend has been especially true of teams with extremely easy schedules, as the Chargers' projects to be. Therefore, the Chargers are in a good position to outperform the win total that the oddsmakers are projecting.

An Influx of Charger Talent

In 2021, despite Justin Herbert ascending to the elite tier of NFL quarterbacks, it was clear that the Chargers' roster was not ready to compete for a Super Bowl. Their run defense was atrocious, their secondary was spotty, and their offensive line was inconsistent. Those weaknesses troubled the Chargers down the stretch and ultimately doomed them against the Raiders when the stakes were highest.

The Chargers' front office recognized that and brought in an abundance of talent during the offseason. They focused on the defensive side of the ball — appropriately so — and added two certifiable superstars. They signed All-Pro cornerback J.C. Jackson in free agency, securing the lockdown corner that the 2021 Chargers were sorely lacking. They also traded for Khalil Mack, an edge-rusher with six Pro Bowl appearances and a Defensive Player of the Year award under his belt. Mack will line up opposite Joey Bosa, forming arguably the top pass-rushing duo in the NFL.

Beyond those headline-grabbing acquisitions, the Chargers made a flurry of savvy signings that strengthened all three levels of the defense and shored up its depth. They signed Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson, two reliable interior defenders who will go a long way towards solving the Chargers' run-stopping problem. They grabbed Kyle Van Noy and Troy Reeder to add competition at linebacker, improving the depth of the position group in the process. They snagged Morgan Fox, a depth pass-rusher who succeeded in Staley's defensive system with the Rams. They signed Bryce Callahan, a talented cornerback who struggled in 2021, to a short-term, 'prove-it' deal.

This defense will perform better than it did in 2021 — that much is guaranteed. After all, that is an exceedingly low bar to clear. That being said, the extent to which the unit will improve is up in the air — my model has the Chargers' defense as the 12th-best in the NFL, but NFL defenses are notoriously subject to extreme variance.

As for the offense, the Chargers made fewer changes. This makes sense — why overhaul an offense that ranked fifth in points-per-game, yards-per-game, and yards-per-play? Still, they used their first-round pick on Zion Johnson, a quality guard prospect who projects as a day 1 starter. They also extended receiver Mike Williams, ensuring that Herbert retains his full complement of aerial weapons. Overall, this unit is likely to remain among the league's best offenses in 2022.

Final Thoughts on the Los Angeles Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers are in the unique, enviable position of rostering a superstar quarterback on a rookie deal. Once Justin Herbert's eventual monster extension — one that will transform the quarterback market — kicks in, the Chargers will be limited in their ability to build an outstanding team around him. However, his rookie deal has two years remaining, meaning that the Chargers have a two-year timeframe over which they can build a true juggernaut.

This offseason demonstrated that their front office is fully on-board with that plan. They added a plethora of solid pieces on short-term deals, knowing that too many long-term commitments would have hamstrung them once Herbert is making top-three QB money. They also eliminated virtually every question mark that hampered the team in 2021 (defensive line, linebacker, cornerback, offensive guard), ensuring that they do not waste another year of Herbert's rookie deal with a middling roster.

So, let's combine all of these factors. The Chargers' schedule is among the easiest in the league, they have a top-five quarterback with MVP upside, and they drastically improved their defense while ensuring continuity on offense. As a result, my model has the Chargers pegged at a whopping 13.11 expected wins, and I'm inclined to agree with that level of optimism. If they stay healthy, the Chargers will contend for a Super Bowl in 2022.

2022 NFL Prediction - Los Angeles Chargers Picks:

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Jason Yamaguchi is an avid New York sports fan. He has a proven record of providing +EV bets by combining traditional handicapping tactics with advanced statistics. You can follow him on Twitter @TopMoneyPicks to view all of his bets, including NFL, NHL, and MLB picks.

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